Fleeing Violence In Central Myanmar

Published on 26 April 2013

U Nyunt Maung, 50, earned a living as a horse cart driver in Meiktila before inter-communal fighting forced him to flee his home. He became separated from his family, and now hopes to be reunited with them.
Photo: WFP/Alice Hluan Sui

Violence erupted between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Central Myanmar on 20 March 2013, forcing over 12,000 people from their homes. WFP has been providing emergency food assistance to displaced people, for whom the future remains uncertain.

U Nyunt Maung has lived in the Thiri Mingalar section of Meiktila for most of his life, supporting six family members by working as a horse-cart driver. Cheerful and sociable, he had many friends in this city of 80,000, both Muslim like him, as well as Buddhist.

Daw A Mar Tin has also lived in Thiri Mingalar her entire life, among other Buddhists as well as alongside Muslims. “I raised pigs and chicken for a living,” she says. “My Muslim neighbors shared their rice gruel for the pigs. We lived in peace.”

When an argument between a Muslim shopkeeper and Buddhist resident in Meiktila escalated into wholescale violence on 20 March, people like Nyunt Maung and A Mar Tin became unwilling victims. Mobs roamed the streets, beating passers-by, burning homes, shops, and mosques. Muslims were initially targeted, but many Buddhists who tried to intervene were also victims of the attacks. The fighting soon spread to neighboring townships and regions.

“I ran as fast as possible,” says U Nyunt Maung, 50, when he saw that an angry mob was approaching his house. “I didn’t have any time to take any of my belongings.” The mob caught him and beat him, seriously injuring his arms and legs, but U Nyunt Maung was able to escape. He became separated from his family.

When she saw houses being burned, “my family fled to a monastery for safety,” says A Mar Tin. “All of my pigs and chickens were lost. I couldn’t carry any belongings.”

By the time the army was able to regain control three days later, the violence had left over 40 people dead. More than 1,100 houses were burned to the ground, and another 420 damaged. Over 12,000 people were displaced from their homes, living in temporary camps administered by the government and humanitarian agencies. Many had lost everything.

A week after the initial outbreak of violence, WFP had distributed a two-week food ration for over 8,700 displaced people. Two weeks later, WFP distributed food again at seven camps. Other UN agencies, NGOs and private donors had provided assistance such as temporary shelters, clothes, and other basic necessities.

While the violence has stopped, many residents of Meiktila are still afraid of what might happen next. U Nyunt Maung hopes to recover from his injuries and be reunited with his family. “I will not be able to work immediately, but my family will support me until I recover,” he says hopefully.

Daw A Mar Tin is less optimistic. “I have two children in school. I don’t know how to send them back to school. My house and my livestock are gone. I have no relatives to rely on,” she says in tears.

(As told to Khin Moe Aye, Head of WFP’s Magway Sub-Office, and Alice Hluan Sui, Senior Programme Assistant)